Senate negotiators are increasingly frustrated by what they say is widespread misinformation surrounding the emerging border package, and they forcefully reject it.
Lawmakers participating in the talks have been drafting the bill for months, but the opposition chorus has grown louder in recent weeks. This has left supporters of the border package, who have been reluctant to get into the nitty-gritty of the yet-to-be-released bill, behind the eight ball.
They have now begun issuing more severe rebukes as they move closer to releasing the final text of the bill in the coming days.
This comes amid a barrage of attacks from former President Trump and indications from House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) that the bill may be dead when it reaches the House.
“The war of messages is real,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.D.) told reporters. “The reality is we're in the middle of a primary where everyone in the House, even those who are sympathetic to the bill that I see is going to be challenged if they're a month or two away from introducing it and a potential challenger, so the timing is very difficult.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (R-Ariz.), one of the lead negotiators, criticized the continued attacks against the bill, especially since the details are largely unknown beyond the broad outlines.
“The stories about what this does and doesn’t do are wrong,” Sinema told reporters in a long back-and-forth. “It's misinformation, and whether it's intentional or not is someone else's question to answer, but the rumors going around about what this legislation does are false.”
Specifically, Sinema and others are troubled by one well-known detail that has become a major talking point for conservative opponents: The Department of Homeland Security would be required to virtually close the border if a migrant crossing reaches a daily average of 5,000 encounters per day, or if that total reaches 4,000 per day on Over the course of a week.
Conservatives relayed these details to claim that the United States would allow 5,000 immigrants into the country daily one way or another. Johnson said the package would “explicitly allow up to 150,000 people to cross illegally every month.”
Sinema called the claim “the biggest piece of misinformation out there,” repeatedly adding that the bill ends “catch and release,” the practice of releasing immigrants for a period of time before they appear at an immigration hearing.
“The idea that people, 'illegal immigrants, are entering the country, at a rate of 5,000 people a day, is factually false,'” the Arizona Independent said.
“They can't stay or… [get] in the city. They're not being [noticed to appear] in the city. “They're not roaming around the country like current people do when they get to the border,” Sinema said. “Every one of these individuals goes into detention or this alternative to a detention program. Cases are decided quickly. Those who are not eligible are quickly removed. Those who qualify receive a work permit and, when their claim is finalized, a path to citizenship as asylum seekers are entitled to them under our law.
When asked about Johnson's comments, she described them as “factually inaccurate.” Sinema added that his team is familiar with the details of the bill.
Johnson's office fired on Wednesday.
“As the Speaker of the House stated, based on published news reports, the new authority will only become operational after confrontations average more than 4,000 or 5,000 per day. If that is not accurate, the Senate has complete freedom to publish legislative text.” and clarify any problems.
Sinema's expanded remarks came days after Sen. James Lankford (Oklahoma), the GOP's chief negotiator, attempted to fend off attacks on the pending bill by Trump during an appearance on a show Sunday.
“They're all acting on online rumors about what's in the bill, many of which are false,” he said on CBS' “Face the Nation.”
Several Senate Republicans noted that the main issue facing those who want a border deal remains the lack of available legislative text. The group has been working for weeks to nail that script, but Sinema said they are still putting the finishing touches on it before releasing it this week. But in his absence, opponents fill the void.
“It's been misunderstood,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.). “When you don't have a text in front of you, I think some details get misunderstood.”
The border deal is expected to be part of President Biden's emergency supplemental program that would link border reforms to aid to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region and for humanitarian purposes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.N.Y.) told reporters that working weekends and even the looming two-week recess is not out of the question in order to get the extra cash at the finish line. The holiday is expected to begin on February 9.
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